16 March, 2020
In the same way that there is no Planet B, there is also no second body or personal health system, so why are we not looking after both equally? Climate change has jumped onto every political and social agenda
and so has coronavirus. So why hasn’t personal fitness?
Two people can be easily identified with championing the global climate change: Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough. Climate change is on every government, national and local agenda. Sir David has been
named one of the 100 Greatest Britons and at 94 years old, adds gravitas to the campaign. At the other
end of the age spectrum, Greta is only 17. Greta first started campaigning just two years ago and has
already received numerous honours and awards including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in
2019 and 2020. She is also on the Forbes list of ‘The World's 100 Most Powerful Women’ and can count
herself as one of the Time 100 ‘Most Influential People in the World’.
Compare this to the top ten fitness influencers on social media who between them have fewer than 100
million Instagram followers ? out of a world population of 7.8 billion. They have limited reach and exposure
outside the fitness bubble, they don’t hold any world-renowned awards or nominations, and there isn’t a
well-known household name. So, where does the ‘fitness Greta’ come from if not from within the industry?
If you’re on the inside you speak to the industry, not the population at large. Beyond the influencers, there’s
no international agenda or movement, no global approach or disruptors. Self-perpetuating bureaucracies,
like industry associations, operate with benign neglect and have inbuilt conflicts of interest. The
coronavirus highlights the weakness of industry associations at this time where members still come first, not the industry.
We know that all the money in the world doesn’t guarantee happiness and good health, yet when you lose
any part of your perfect bodily functions, ouch! Doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths and paramedics have
your attention whilst things are not ‘just perfect’ but that influence soon wanes as the ailment heals. A
society that is fitter is a society that is more resilient and in a better position to face a pandemic. It’s well
known that fitter individuals will recover from any injury or illness quicker. The estimated per person annual
NHS cost saving is ￡13.25 for people who participate in exercise; that’s around ￡1bn of potential savings
(estimated from DCMS).
The American Heart Association study published recently found the average savings for a person getting
enough exercise versus those who are inactive totaled $2,500 per person per year. Given that over 80% of
Americans don’t meet recommended activity guidelines, this would be a significant saving on the national
health bill just for the USA. From studies all over the world, the message to the patient and population at
large is there’s no better way to reduce the risk of disease and healthcare than optimising activity, so why
isn’t this message clearer?
The soft power of fitness and exercise becomes important for different reasons as we age. Fitter people
can enjoy each life stage better, along with improved sleep and sex life. Movement, agility and balance is
crucial in later life (so you can keep up with those grandchildren!) but this can only come from regular
So, if exercise is the wonder drug that can help treat a wide range of medical conditions and help you fight
off the normal flu virus, or the current global coronavirus (COVID-19), why does the fitness industry not
have a Greta or an Attenborough campaigning and telling the world?
In a matter of weeks, the situation in Italy moved from postponing the annual ForumClub event in Milan
to closing all fitness clubs in the country as a precaution. The FIBO trade show scheduled for April has been
postponed and at the time of writing IHRSA has been cancelled just five days before opening in San Diego
(which was too late for some who were already at the airport). One obvious option for events is to scrap
them entirely this year given the losses incurred so far by everyone. If the Premier League can suspend
matches now, should all fitness shows and exhibitions in 2020 do the same? The fragile economy of the
fitness industry will be stunned if the virus continues to spread and more countries go into lockdown.
The irony in China, where the virus started, is that although gyms and fitness studios sit empty by mandate
or choice, the government is aggressively encouraging people to exercise to fight the virus. The ruling
Communist Party has launched a campaign featuring Olympic athletes to demonstrate how people can stay
fit while stuck at home. Bilibili, a video sharing platform, has seen fitness content up by over 60%. The F45
studio in Shanghai is offering workout sessions on WeChat, the messaging app. Gravity Plus gyms in Beijing
have introduced cloud clubbing where classes are streamed to members via the app Douyin. Live streaming
of classes, like Pilates ProWorks in Shanghai, is the biggest trend to hit the Chinese exercise sector in the
past four weeks. The majority are being offered for free to protect existing customers but also to offer a
channel of communication and contact for those in lockdown. But how long can gyms survive without
paying customers? The China Labour Bulletin’s map shows that over 40 fitness brands closed in 2019, and
that was before the virus struck.
Gym operators in Japan have closed some of their sites as a precaution. Central Sports, for example, has
closed most of its 240 sites. At least one major gym in Toronto (Goodlife Fitness) had to close for a short
period as a precaution, just like The Gym in Poole in the UK. As of today, Barry’s has closed many of its
studios, including all those in the UK, USA and Canada. The EnergyOne gym at Safra Punggol in Singapore
closed due to a man known as Case 138, who had visited the gym on March 6th between precisely 7.36 and
Food delivery apps have changed the way we eat. Transportation apps have changed the way we think
about getting from A to B. Streaming services have changed the way we listen to music and how we watch
TV and films. Will this virus be the tipping point for how technology changes the way we think and relate
to exercise? Out of this crisis, will we find our Greta?
At the time of writing (16 March, 2020):
174,085 Coronavirus Cases
89,535 Active Cases
Reprinted by courtesy of Mr. David Minton.